Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Windbag at the Gym

Two months after my shoulder surgery, I have been cleared to resume going to the gym. The company that provides my health insurance apparently has calculated that I’ll cost them less money in the long run if they provide me a free membership at a fairly swanky one, on what used to be called The Miracle Mile. I am intent on regaining the slenderly muscular physique that used to drive the girlies half mad with desire, or at least to arrest the woeful sagging that I can no longer pretend I don’t see when I look in, but I know it’s not going to happen overnight. One of the other crumbling ancients whose insurance companies provides free use of the gym will come over to a machine I’ve just vacated, frown at it in confusion, add 20 pounds, and only then commence her own exertions. I am, at this moment, the gym weakling.

There is, adjacent to the rather splendid men’s changing room, an alcove in which one might view sports highlights. I have now on three different occasions when nobody was around sneaked in there and changed the channel from ESPN to the Food Network. How I wish, at moments such as these, that there were a Floral Arrangement Network.

There is, of course, an unofficial gym blabbermouth, a guy who’s forever striking up conversations with anybody who’ll listen. Want to know the real story behind the recent Mayweather/Pacquiao fight? He’s the man to talk to! If you’re on Facebook, and don’t pretend you’re not, you of course know people like this — people who know, as who doesn’t? — that the governments of Pakistan and Costa Rica are behind Bernie Sanders’ decision to run for president, and are openly contemptuous of your skepticism. 

The guy’s grammar, of course, is atrocious, and this afternoon I had the displeasure of hearing him share his views on marriage equality with some poor devil trying to strengthen his deltoids. “Obama’s made it so you and me could get married if we wanted,” he marveled disgustedly. To his credit, the poor devil on whom he’d glommed admitted that he regarded marriage equality as a good thing. I suspect he realized it would be futile to try to explain that it’s a succession of state supreme courts that have made the referenced decision, and not Barack Obama, even though the latter’s views are known to have…evolved. He said sarcastically.

Blabbermouth has a couple of thing going for him, and is never likely not to have someone willing to listen to his conspiracy theories and other inanities. For one thing, he has fantastic arms and pecs to go with his pot belly, and the most muscular guy at any gym invariably attracts the sycophancy of those less muscular. Moreover, he’s black — that is, from the same ethnic minority that gave us hip hop, the most vibrant youth culture in America today, and Key & Peele, America’s most brilliant comedy team, as well as most of our more notable professional basketball and football players. He looks a lot as Floyd Mayweather may look a decade hence.

He knows what goes down both on the street and in the hood. You know what I’m saying? One naturally accords such a person respect, logorrheic and homophobic  though he may be. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Lowering the Bar, Resting It on the Ground

The idea of letting ordinary people write reviews of things — restaurants, hotels, Android tablets, electronic drum kits — must have seemed a very good one, but have you noticed that it just doesn't work? I have yet to find anything (with the possibility of my universally reviled Pixies biography, Black Francis Ate My Cerebellum) on which opinion isn't both widely and wildly divergent. Says Diner A of, say, La Maison de la Casa House (for all my fellow Calvin Trillin fans), "Most delicious food I've ever tasted, and what wonderfully attentive service!" Half a dozen others echo this sentiment, and you're all set to call for a reservation when you discover that Diner B has written, "Most horrible food in human history. I got ptomaine poisoning, and died. And our server seemed to have leprosy. I found one of his fingers in my bouillabaisse." Then half a dozen diners agree with him. 

You can can easily go crazy.

That was I singing last night ‘neath your balcony at a few minutes past 10. Maybe you were too involved in a favorite television program or book or even magazine to hear me. Or maybe you and He Who’s Replaced Me in your heart were sending lewd text messages back and forth. Knowing how much you’ve always enjoyed them — knowing how you become bloated with pride at karaoke when I perform them — I sang two songs, Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe,” and sang them well, in the full-bodied baritone that has delighted audiences on two continents and an island.

Or maybe the problem was that you didn’t recognize me, as I was dressed not as I customarily dress, as a penniless (or absurdly penurious) rock type in waning middle age, but as a root vegetable — a Russet potato, to be specific. I had hoped only to prove to you that, when the situation demands it, I can be humble. Oh, the slings and arrows I suffered on the long bus ride over! Or maybe not quite slings and arrows, but the hoots and giggles of the Oaxacan busboys heading to work and the Guatemalan maids returning from it in their starched white uniforms and plastic clogs, every third one of them answering either to Maria or Juanita, as the maids did too.

A bit fanciful today, huh? I can hear you musing as you sip your Superfood smoothie and light your first cigarette of the morning, reflecting, perhaps, as I myself am doing even now, that that which seems inexpressibly hilarious under the influence of the dregs of the medical marijuana I’m going to have to make a mental note to replenish soon often seems just silly in the harsh light of day. I mean, there I was in the bathtub last evening, reveling in the pleasure of the almost intolerably hot water, and giggling delightedly at my own ideas for this little flight of fancy. And now, 10 hours later, I’m wondering if I should even bother trying to nudge it to the finish line, or instead try to remember another sexual misadventure I might have enjoyed — or failed to enjoy — in a time before AIDS, a time before the decades pilfered my beauty and coarsened my swagger.

I could get high now, of course, and indeed would if I were more dedicated. But it might make me either lethargic or horny, and neither would be appropriate in the circumstances. I must practice my drumming. I must practice piano. I must spend a couple of hours applying for jobs for which I will invariably be pronounced Not a Good Fit, if I am pronounced anything at all. (Around 109 percent of my prospective employers don’t acknowledge having heard from me.) Friends speculate that my résumé is failing to tickle the algorithmic G-spot that has apparently come to replace a live human being looking at a prospective art director’s online portfolio and saying, “This guy’s good!” The problem is that I have already told every lie on my résumé that I can think of to tell.

I sadly recall the nincompoop assistant personnel director at the company in New York City for which I worked for three gloriously overpaid ($65/hour) months in 2009. If she sighed and said, “It is what it is,” once a day, she said it a dozen. Her doing so increased no one’s understanding of anything, least of all her own. My impression was that she imagined herself to sound alluringly world-weary.

I have done my legacy no favors here.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Promiscuous Me: Straight Outta Compton

Before The  Pits who altered the course of popular music in our time, those depicted in my Facebook timeline photo, there was an earlier version, comprising the author on organ, a Billy Cobham-styled drummer from the Palm Springs ghetto (I hadn’t realized there was one), a prematurely balding guitarist who looked unnervingly like the hippie icon Wavy Gravy, and the bass-playing rich kid at whose house in the Hollywood Hills we rehearsed. At various stages, I hoped to replace everyone but the rich kid (I didn’t want to have to pay for a rehearsal studio), and held auditions, at one of which Ben Tench, who’d go on to international acclaim as a member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, watched us play a couple of songs, made the face of someone who’s just eaten something ghastly, and beat a hasty retreat.

We attracted a very unlikely groupie, a young black woman from Compton, from which the gangsta rap pioneers NWA would emerge 13 years later.  She was skinny, with very shiny processed hair. Her name was known to the balding guitarist to be Shirley, but she called herself Taurus, which happened to be my astrological birth sign.

I have always regarded astrology as sheer silliness, and am proud to report that even as a drug-addled faux hippie in my college student days, I would reflexively sneer and say, “No births allowed in here,” when asked, as everyone was asked 158 times per day back then, under what sign I’d been born.

Taurus would come to our rehearsals and leer at us. I suspect she might have found us exotic. She slept with the rich kid bass player, who eagerly reported at the following day’s rehearsal that she’d been like the Grand Canyon at night — black and very big. I knew at that moment that I would have to sleep with her too so I could say, “Gee, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Paul. I found her really tight.” Locker room humor! Obnoxious, but incontestably zingy!

It happened. She turned up one night at one of the clubs at which I would forage for girlies and offered herself to me quite brazenly. Because I was a bastard, and wanted to see if I could get away with it, I suggested we meet in front of the club at evening’s end. I wanted, you see, to try to do better.

I didn’t do better, and she was waiting in front of the club at the agreed-upon hour. As we walked toward my car, a trio of black guys took considerable umbrage at the fact of our apparently having designs on each other. One of them called me an ofay. That was a first for me, and a last. I didn’t turn around to advise them that my antecedents had been in Russia trying not to be raped or murdered in pogroms during the latter decades of slavery, and that I personally deplored racism. I thought they might be unreceptive.

We weren’t sensational together, Taurus and I, and I felt a little bit used, having surmised that she thought I’d introduce her to white rock stars even more glamorous than myself. I think she might have been one of those who, having heard that I wrote for Rolling Stone, thought I was actually a member of the Rolling Stones. What, if that were indeed the case, did she imagine I was doing in a garage in the Hollywood Hills with a balding guitarist who looked like Wavy Gravy?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Promiscuous Me: My Life as a Rolling Stone

I keep telling you how shy I am, and then citing an instance of my having been very bold. Such was the case in the spring of My First Year of Promiscuity, between the first and second live-together girlfriends of my adulthood, when I beheld at a swap meet on Santa Monica Blvd. a leggy blonde goddess in impractical footwear (va va voom!) and a rock and roll coiffure. I blurted an invitation for her  to come see Queen's local debut with me, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. (I was A Major Tastemaker, and had tickets — to everything!). She said she would not. I thought maybe my failure to make small talk had been my undoing, but a few minutes later, she drove past in a late-model Porsche convertible with a handsome young man who scowled at me censoriously. As though I’d had any way of knowing about him!

I wound up taking to the concert my first openly gay friend, an elegant and apparently (financially) loaded black man around my own age called Johnny. He seemed, for reasons not entirely clear, to think me a rock star, and I didn’t exert myself trying to dissuade him. It was fairly common in those days for people, on hearing that I wrote for Rolling Stone, to get into their heads that I was one of the Rolling Stones, the Jewish American one never depicted in any of their publicity photographs. Johnny insisted that I drive his Porsche to the gig. It had been a year since my own had died of its owner’s neglect and stupidity.

I loathed Queen, whom I’d expected to love. Specifically, I found Mr. Mercury quite unbearable. Yes, yes, you're the male Liza Minnelli. We get it. I’d had enough after three songs. If poor Johnny was disappointed, he didn’t let on. As I drove us homeward, he tiptoed around the idea of our, you know, getting it on. I gently confided that what I wanted was a girl just like the girl who’d married dear old dad, or at least a girl. He seemed delighted to be able to advise that he knew one I might find wonderfully suitable. He made some phone calls, and appeared pleased with himself. In a couple of hours, I was to meet a Ms. Debbie B— in front of a particular restaurant on Sunset Blvd. 

She’d apparently spent the time making herself glamorous. She was wearing platform shoes with six-inch heels. She was around 20, tiny and zaftig — and, endearingly, unashamedly awestruck by me. I took her right home. She didn’t protest. I hadn’t enjoyed a woman so much in months. She was a large cut above the girlies I’d been bringing home from the rock clubs, with a palpable sweetness about her. But she didn’t get a great many of my jokes, and exuded neediness, declaring herself in love with me pretty much immediately. 

I was enough of a bastard to feel cheated. I’d have enjoyed an ongoing sexual relationship with her, but knew that if we had one, I’d wind up hurting her more.

A few weeks later, I went to an ABC Records event, and there beheld my future — a vivacious little fox with a gigantic honey-colored Afro. I’d spend the next five years with her. It felt pretty wonderful to come in out of the cold.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Promiscuous Me: She'd Been a Teenaged Googoomuck

After moving down to San Francisco after the collapse of my first marriage, I managed a pickup of the sort that had characterized the dark days between my first and second girlfriends, 14 years before. I went to a club in the SoMa (south of Market Street) district that I kept reading was wonderfully vibrant and hip, and asked a blonde with large breasts to dance. She acceded so eagerly that I asked when the music stopped if she might enjoy coming home with me. She acceded eagerly. It was just like the old days, except that on the way back to Lower Nob Hill, I stopped at a Walgreen’s on Geary Street for some protection. Let’s-Call-Her-Alison asked if she could be on top, which turned out to have been injudicious. When I reached around to unhook her brassiere, her breasts collapsed. I concealed my disappointment, we exchanged phone numbers afterward, and of course never saw each other again.

I suppressed my embarrassment and ran a personal ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, describing myself as looking like a rock star (it was impossible for me to walk through an airport at the time without being asked for autographs). One woman who responded, and who came over, pronounced me not at all her type, her idea of a rock star having been  Jackson Browne. I arranged to meet another respondent who described herself as looking like Olivia Newton-John. She turned out to look a great deal more like Elton John. Stop me if I’ve told you that one before, and told you and told you and told you.

My little family — First Wife, our daughter, and I — had lived together in Santa Rosa, up in the wine country. I heard from a 28-year-old window dresser who lived up there. Sharon  had a little one of her own, and a bruised heart, the little one’s daddy having left her a couple of months before. She seemed interesting — arty and a Cramps fan. Far, far better the Cramps, I thought, than Jackson fucking Browne. I’d long had a secret crush on (Poison) Ivy Rohrschach.

We met on a Sunday afternoon in front of Santa Rosa’s poshest supermarket. Sharon was striking, if just a touch masculine. On finding that she worked in the East Bay, a very long drive south and east, I feigned altruism, and suggested she come down and spend the night on Lower Nob Hill to spare herself some driving the following morning. To my astonishment, she agreed. I later learned she’d taken Ecstasy the night before, and was still in love with absolutely everyone.

The sex was nice, and it had been several weeks since I’d had any, so I wanted a lot. I got behind her and, acting intuitively, slapped her hard on her ass. It excited her enormously. It turned out she was kinky. She regarded welts as hugely sexy. She implored me to beat her, and I was a gracious host. The second time was twice as good as the first, and the first had been nothing at which to sneeze. She lay atop me afterward and we studied each other’s faces. I’d never seen prettier blue eyes.

We began seeing each other regularly. She turned out not to be as enthusiastic about the Korean barbeque place on Polk Street as my daughter and I were. “It filled the cavity,” she sighed after our dinner there, and I made a mental note to use that myself about restaurants that disappointed me, but not too grievously. But then she stood me up one night. It turned out that a woman into whose pantyhose she’d been trying to get had finally done some acceding of her own. That I would have felt worse if she’d stood me up for a guy didn’t mean I didn’t feel bad about it. Her wondering if I’d enjoy doing her and her new girlfriend at the same time made me feel very much better, and I accepted her invitation to come up to her place in Santa Rosa the following Friday night. 

Her girlfriend hadn’t made it, but once again the lovemaking was really good. When I woke up the following morning, though, it was with her little boy glaring at me in confusion. She’d given no indication that he didn’t have a room of his own. I felt pretty awful about that, and gave her a piece of my mind. She said, “There seem to be a lot of things about me you don’t like lately,” daring me to agree. I agreed, and it was the last we saw of each other.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Other Chrissy, the Even Better One

At the end of 1986, I was living with First Wife and our daughter in Santa Rosa, California, the biggest city in the Wine Country. First Wife worked at an art gallery that laundrered money for a pair of the area’s most prolific marijuana dealers, who invited us to their New Year’s Eve party at the house one of them owned high atop a hill in Healdsburg. As is my custom at parties, I went into wallflower mode while First Wife worked the room, as was her own wont. Someone switched a television on. Many gasped with delight to see The Grateful Dead performing, but after a few minutes everyone resumed socializing, enabling me to sneak over to the TV and turn the channel. What to my wondering eyes should appear but The Divinyls, featuring Ms. Chrissy Amphlett, in a girls’ school uniform, ravaged stockings, and wild eyes, looking like jailbait you wouldn’t dare mess with. 

The choices, it seemed to me, were between a gaggle of horrid, self-indulgent old hippies singing out of tune on the one channel, and, on the other, something strange and sexy and a little bit scary — and altogether wonderful. I wanted to tell First Wife, “I cannot bear another minute around people for whom this is a difficult choice,” but dared not spoil her fun. For the next half-hour, I and one of several Dead fans would notice that the channel had been changed, and go over to change it back.

I fought the good fight, my dears. I did.

I confessed the other day to having had a fairly fierce crush on The Cramps’ Poison Ivy Rohrschach. It was nothing compared to that I had on L’Amphlett.

Five years later, here came Chrissy again. She’d ditched the school jumper for the sexiest outfit any rock chanteuse has ever worn on stage, and had recorded a song called I Touch Myself, the video for which absolutely mesmerized me. That pouting! That swaying! Those lips! That body! Those septum-length bangs! Her voice was a cross between that other Chrissy’s (Hynde) and Tammy Wynette’s (though, by 2015, at least 454,290 YouTube viewers had imagined “I Touch Myself” to have been the work of Blondie ). Her body was Anita Ekberg’s, her face Bardot’s. Schwing! It was as though she’d been put together by a committee of men with my own exquisite taste.

I didn’t conceal my lust from my zookeeper girlfriend, and when the Divinyls came to San Francisco, to perform at the Warfield, she took me. She chuckled as my mouth dropped open at the sight of L’Amphlett, in the world’s shortest dress, stockings, and suspenders, blithely placing one foot up on one of her monitors while singing. Oh, to have been that monitor!

“I'd get down on my knees. I'd do anything for you.” Schwing!

What a very awful thing it is when your friends start to die off — and your lust objects. Amphlett died two years ago at 53, from breast cancer, for which she’d been unable to receive chemotherapy because she also had multiple sclerosis. God can be such a motherfucker.